a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jesus it was hot

The relatives in July 1952 on the front porch of this old, weather-beaten house that would become home eight years later to my family.

By Scott Beveridge

WEBSTER, Pa. – The extreme Pennsylvania weather and how it seeped into our old, rundown house was seared decades ago into my childhood memory.

That’s because the clapboard siding protecting our two-story frame house was weathered and pollution-beaten to the point where the outdoors easily swept through its cracks. The only insulation between the outer and inner walls there were the papery nests of wasps that seemed to breed like rabbits.

Our family of five struggled on a good day in the 1960s in that poor pocket of Webster, Pa., along the Monongahela River 30 miles south of Pittsburgh.

And attempting to fall asleep in the then-60-year-old house was nearly impossible on hot-August nights without a fan in the bedroom windows, let alone air conditioning.

I’d moan in bed as a kid with the doors wide open to our three bedrooms while we prayed for the air to circulate.

"Close your eyes and think of Jesus," my mom, June, would respond, as if our family were bidding goodnight like the TV Walton family would do a decade later. "It'll help you fall asleep," she would add.

Mom’s advice offered little solace under the blanket of a hot, humid night. Neither did divine intervention.

Her words weren't received much easier during a January freeze, while the basement furnace died down and no one got up to stoke its embers with new lumps of coal.

Fortunately we had indoor plumbing then, water pipes that were pressured by an ancient, electric pump that kicked on a few seconds after a faucet was opened.

However, the bathroom in a renovated kitchen pantry was soooo frigid in the dead of winter that it took extreme courage to park flesh atop the bitter cold commode seat.

I nicknamed that tiny room the indoor outhouse, and would go on to rejoice the day when dad finally bought a window fan for my bedroom.

That brought a new problem, though.

The fan's blades didn’t seem to help much on those breathless summer nights, whether they were used to draw the stale indoor air out, or more of the muggy outdoor air inside.

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